Why trading Kevin Durant for Jaylen Brown would be as risky for the Nets as it was for the Celtics

When a team trades a superstar for a younger player, it tends to be for both control and upside. Superstars asking for trades are almost always armed with the threat of free agency, while young players, for the most part, have less freedom of movement. A first-round pick cannot change teams per pick until after their fifth season, but given the financial risks involved in doing so, they more often delay free agency until after their eighth or ninth season in through a beginner extension. Sure, having Anthony Davis for one year is nice, but having Brandon Ingram for six is ​​much nicer. This is the logic behind most highly successful operations: immediate talent for long-term security.

What makes a trade between the Brooklyn Nets and the Boston Celtics involving Kevin Durant and Jaylen Brown so interesting is that it essentially reverses that dynamic. Durant is 33 years old, but comes with four seasons of team control. There is a very realistic possibility that he will end his career with whatever team he plays for. Brown is eight years younger at 25, but has almost no control over the team. He has two more seasons on his contract, but due to some quirks in the CBA, he’s virtually guaranteed to decline a contract extension and become an unrestricted free agent in 2024.

The NBA limits most contract extensions to a 20 percent increase over the previous season’s salary. For most young stars, this is not a problem. It usually just involves jumping from one max figure to the next. But Brown isn’t like most young stars. He was unable to negotiate a rookie max extension for himself in 2019, and that has huge ramifications for him now. First, only rookie maximum extensions are eligible to last five years. If Boston had paid Brown a little more, they would have had him under contract for another year, and he’d probably be a little more valuable as a trade asset.

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But more importantly, this sub-max deal will guarantee Brown a base salary of $28.5 million for the 2023-24 season. That means with a 20 percent raise, he would be in line to make roughly $34.2 million in the 2024-25 season with an extension. However, as an unrestricted free agent, Brown could earn anything up to 30 percent of the salary cap.

We don’t know what that number will be yet, but we can make a reasonable guess. The cap for the 2022-23 season is projected to be $133 million. That would be a nearly $10 million jump from this season’s $123.6 million cap, which was an $11 million jump from the $112.4 million cap for the 2021 season- 22. Let’s say we factor in another $10 million cap hit that would bring the cap up to $143 million when Brown becomes a free agent. If he signs for 30 percent of that cap, his 2024-25 salary would be $42.9 million. That’s nearly $9 million more than he could make on an extension, and that’s just the first year of the deal. Over the course of the full contract, he would sacrifice tens of millions of dollars.

And that, of course, assumes the NBA’s salary structure doesn’t change dramatically in the summer of 2025, when a new TV deal is expected to kick in. The last time it happened, the cap jumped nearly 35 percent in a single offseason. While the general assumption is that the league and players’ association will use cap softening to make sure this doesn’t happen again, most star-level players will consider signing long-term deals in 2024 because the limit could increase a lot. 2025. Not only would this open the door for Brown to make much more money as a 2025 free agent, but it would also give him the freedom to choose from a much wider variety of destinations because more teams would have cap space.

Ironically, that’s how Durant himself landed in Golden State. The pick gave the Warriors enough cap space to offer Durant a max contract despite having Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala in place. It’s not hard to imagine a similar scenario for Brown or any other free agent in 2025. If he wants to play for the hometown Hawks, or perhaps handpick a younger rival like the Mavericks or Grizzlies, this offseason would represent a golden opportunity to do so. It’s too early to say whether or not that path would interest Brown, but with no financial incentive to extend himself, he has little reason not to consider it.

The CBA offers a possible solution for players of Brown’s caliber. If he makes an All-NBA team next season, he will immediately be eligible for a five-year supermax extension starting at 35 percent of the cap. But in another bit of Durant-related irony, that contract would only be available to him if he stays in Boston. When Durant left Oklahoma City for Golden State, the NBA created the supermax as a way to keep stars on their original teams. Therefore, it is only available to players who are on the team that drafted them or a team that traded for them during the first four years of their career. Brown currently meets that criteria as a member of the Celtics. If they trade him to Brooklyn, he would no longer qualify. It’s a shame, too, because as a centerpiece for the Nets, he’d probably have a better chance at NBA honors than he would as a supporting player in Boston.

It has long been reported that Brooklyn hopes to land an All-Star caliber player in any Durant deal. They could get one in a Brown deal, but it’s much harder to tell if they could keep him. The Celtics have been on the other side of that equation. In 2017, they traded for Kyrie Irving with two years left on his deal. In 2018, Irving himself said he planned to re-sign with the Celtics, but because his original deal came before the 2016 cap increase, the extension would have limited his earning potential. By the time free agency hit, he had decided he wanted out of Boston.

Maybe that happens to Brown in Boston. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe Boston is only exploring this deal in the first place out of fear that Brown will leave them like Irving did. But it all represents an extremely unusual type of blockbuster business. The conventional definition of risk in basketball suggests that Boston would make the boldest move here. By trading a 25-year-old for a 33-year-old, the Celtics would significantly shorten their championship window in order to extend it in the short term. But the risk for the Nets is just as high. Even if Brooklyn believes it can build a winner around Brown, the Nets could lose him before they have the chance.

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